McGill students earn Pathy Foundation Fellowships

McGill students earn 11 of 16 Pathy Foundation Fellowships to support their self-directed community-focused projects
Top r to l: Nivatha Balendra, Michaela Drouillard, Sophia Gregory, Raj Birgi, Emily Booker and Derakhshan Qurban-Ali. Bottom l to r: Ben Heywood-MacLeod, Meriem Mezdour, Joel Grant, Courtney Murdoch and Dominique Robichaud

McGill students have been recognized for their strong ties with the community, earning 11 of 16 Pathy Foundation Fellowships for 2021-2022.

The Pathy Foundation Fellowship is an intensive 12-month opportunity for graduating students (undergraduate or Masters) from five partner universities (Bishops, McGill uOttawa, Queen’s and StFX) who have an existing meaningful connection with a community anywhere in the world and an innovative initiative idea to strengthen that community. Fellows are provided with comprehensive training, dedicated ongoing support and up to $40,000 to make a sustainable impact in their chosen community and to support their growth as active and effective leaders and change-makers.

Here are McGill’s 2021-2022 Pathy Foundation Fellows and their descriptions of the respective projects:

Nivatha Balendra; BSc, Physiology
Initiative: Nature-based Solutions for a Sustainable Future

Chemicals are integrated in our everyday lives. The petrochemical industry is the largest industry-based energy consumer and produces 7 per cent of Earth’s greenhouse gas emissions. As society is becoming increasingly aware and interested in natural alternatives, the petrochemical industry is starting to divert from a non-renewable petroleum-based economy to a renewable, natural economy. It is with this in mind that I founded Dispersa, a CleanTech startup, in 2019. Our mission is to contribute to a sustainable future by decarbonizing the chemical industry. The proposed Fellowship initiative will involve the CleanTech community by harnessing Dispersa’s nature-based technology to create climate, social, and community impact. Through producing natural alternatives to synthetic chemicals, my wish is to contribute to reducing GHG emissions and reinvesting generated revenues into community projects, such as youth science programs – environmental initiatives – and advancing CleanTech research.

Raj Birgi; BA, Hoint Honors Political Science and International Development
Mairye Village (Gayaza District), Uganda
Initiative:  Growing Smallholder Farmers through Sustainable Farming

My initiative is to work with a community of smallholder farmers to overcome key challenges faced across the value chain, including agricultural practices and agricultural education, access to inputs and markets, and sustainable farming techniques. These challenges will be overcome through community-based learning, knowledge sharing and community access to inputs. My Community will be a network of smallholder farmers located in Kampala, Uganda.

Emily Booker; MA, Education and Society
North Vancouver, BC
Initiative: Girl Group to Empower Youth

My proposed initiative is an online Girl Group connecting self-identified femme/female youth 14 to 18, including but not limited to trans, non-binary, gender fluid, 2spirit and any other female/femme-identified youth in the community of North Vancouver. I will facilitate the online Girl Group, starting with identifying specific topics or issues the group members are passionate about. We will engage in arts-based activities to address gender-inequality and the chosen topics. Additionally, the Girl Group will feature workshops and presentations from female/femme-identified leaders or champions of gender justice in the community. My proposed initiative will create a safe space that empowers youth in their gender identity and counters sexism in the community. The proposed arts-based method will allow creative expression and reflection for addressing challenging topics to speak openly about. Meeting online will allow the group to connect safely and follow Covid-19 related restrictions.

Michaela Drouillard; BA, Classics
Community: Montreal
Initiative: Digital Literacy for Formerly Incarcerated People

I organize and facilitate a digital literacy workshop for formerly incarcerated people in partnership with Communitas Montreal, a St-Henri based organization structured around restorative justice that has been offering social reintegration spaces for formerly incarcerated people since the 1990s. This digital literacy workshop provides participants with the basic skills required for navigating the labor market, along with discussion-based sessions where we discuss how the internet influences our civic and social lives.  I’m hoping to continue this workshop (currently held over Zoom), and, with the help of the Pathy Foundation, to set up a mobile public computer lab to make this program more accessible in the Zoom era.

Joel Grant; MEng, Chemical Engineering
Community: Montreal Area,
Initiative: Indigenous Science Activities on Film

This project will focus on working with Indigenous community members within the Montreal area to tell stories on film. I will be collaborating with the Indigenous Health Professions Program (IHPP) at McGill University to share traditional storytelling, science activities, as well as producing mini documentaries. My vision is to allow for a platform of collaboration, creativity and sharing for the Indigenous community, and for those who are inspired to learn. I will be working with Indigenous leaders, academics, and professionals. As a Métis, it is my hope to have a positive impact on Indigenous youth through the medium of film.

Sophia Gregory; BSc, Agriculture and Environmental Science
 Bullock Lake Farm, Salt Spring Island, BC
Initiative: Cultivating Resilience: A Farm-to-School Program

This initiative aims to establish partnerships and enable collaboration between local schools, school garden programs, farms and community groups on Salt Spring Island, offering students opportunities to connect more closely to the land, their local community and the environment. The program will offer curated in-class curriculum, regular field trips, and summer programming to provide continuity of learning and alternative educational opportunities for Salt Spring Island youth. We aim to teach students through experiential learning and discussion, covering topics from plant biology, agroecosystem interactions, land stewardship and sustainable food system solutions. The purpose of this initiative is to provide the students of Salt Spring Island with ecological knowledge, practical skills, connection to their local food system and resilience in the face of an uncertain future.

Ben Heywood-MacLeod; BA, International Development Studies and Philosophy
Community: Williamsford, ON
Initiative: Race Reconciliation through Community Bridging

The Negro Creek road sign, in Grey County Ontario, is the last marker of a once vibrant Black settlement. Its history has been forcibly erased over decades by the White settler community. As instances of racial violence are increasing, race reconciliation is urgently needed. My initiative will develop a reconciliatory framework for collective, community-wide antiracist projects. The first stage will include providing a safe platform for knowledge keepers (descendants of the settlement, and Black educators) to reaffirm their presence, share their knowledge, and build connections with local White allies. It will also include the digitizing of historical material (including oral histories) for preservation and distribution. The second stage will be the reclaiming and reasserting of a Black history site through collective, community-wide involvement. The organizing will be done through a series of open forums led by local Black historians.

Meriem Mezdour; MA, Political Science
Ottawa/Montreal, ON/QC
Initiative: Community Building through Newcomer Youth
This project aims to help newcomer youth build community in Montreal and/or Ottawa. I intend to collaborate with newcomer organizations and create interactive activities and projects that can not only be useful to newcomers but enhance their feeling of belonging in Canada. Keeping in mind COVID-19 protocols, my project can have three outcomes: (1) organize in-person activities in community centres with youth, (2) hold similar workshops and activities online, or (3) implement a hybrid model (in-person/ online).

Courtney Murdoch; Bed, English as a Second Language
Community: Lachute, QC
Initiative: Girl Talk: Building Our Future

Girl Talk is about empowering girls to become confident and successful women by allowing them to develop the tools that will help them thrive regardless of life circumstances and an educational system that favours the success of their male peers. While there are resources available in urban areas that can help offset societal anti-female biases, they are costly. Girls from rural towns or disadvantaged regions are often underserved in this way. Additionally, girls from these communities tend to have many responsibilities in the home that may further hinder their capacity for educational and professional success.  Through the development of critical life skills, mentorship programs, academic success initiatives, various workshops, and more, girls will develop the tools they need to make their place in a world that all too often pushes them down.

Derakhshan Qurban-Ali; BCL, JD
Community: Toronto, ON
Initiative: Empowering Communities to Combat Mass Atrocities

The proposed initiative aims to support, empower and engage the Hazara community by developing the foundations for a community-driven human rights and education network, as well as an accompanying documentation centre for victims of mass atrocity. The project would be developed in collaboration with local and global Hazara civil society, with a focus on supporting, centering and empowering the diverse voices and lived experiences of refugees. This project aims to strengthen the community by: 1. Raising awareness about the targeted persecution of Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan; 2. Empowering victims of mass atrocities to share their stories of persecution and resilience; 3. Connecting Hazara refugees, advocates and civil society actors committed to promoting human rights; 4. Meaningfully engaging with diverse stakeholders and encouraging inter-ethic/interreligious dialogue; and 5. Developing skills-based human rights advocacy trainings and co-creating innovative solutions through events, workshops and human rights “hack-a-thons.”

Dominique Robichaud; MISt, Information Studies
Community: Wabanaki Nation, QC
Initiative: Waban-Aki Nation and Community Archives

Along with the Waban-Aki Nation, I would work towards creating a community archives centre. This centre would help the Abenaki become independent from other external institutions and help further develop a sense of autonomy by preserving their collective memories on their own terms. This archival collection will be accessible at the Abenaki Museum, the first First-Nation Museum in Quebec. This initiative will also help students from the Kiuna College (the only First Nations College in Quebec) located near the museum, to access material produced by their ancestors.

Read the Pathy Foundation announcement.